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Boris Johnson’s Russia comments of no concern to me, says England boss Southgate

England take on Holland in a friendly in Amsterdam on Friday night.

England manager Gareth Southgate has declared he has “little interest” in Boris Johnson’s potentially incendiary views on the World Cup in Russia.

The foreign secretary has been outspoken in his recent remarks about Vladimir Putin’s regime, agreeing at an appearance in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that this summer’s tournament could be likened to the staging of the 1936 Olympics in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Johnson is not alone among the political class in having his say in the wake of the Salisbury spy poisoning, with Labour MP Stephen Kinnock calling for the competition to be postponed and moved to a new location.

But Southgate, an engaged and inquisitive figure who has previously called on English footballers to shed their “island mentality”, made it clear he had no time for such interventions.

“It’s of little interest to me what the foreign secretary thinks about it,” he said ahead of Friday’s friendly with Holland in Amsterdam.

“I spoke to the players a couple of days ago and there’s no suggestion we won’t go to the tournament. The thing that’s uppermost in our mind is security and safety and there are no concerns about that.

“I was in Russia for the Confederations Cup (last year) and there were about 15,000 fans from Chile there, it was incredible atmosphere in the stadiums. The training grounds and facilities were excellent.

“I’ve spent some time in Russia and felt incredibly comfortable there. The situation is developing, I don’t really know what that’s going to be like in June. What I know currently wouldn’t stop me going.”

Southgate also acknowledged the possible side effects of growing tensions between the British and Russian governments, who have each expelled 23 diplomats from the other’s country following the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent.

“I don’t think we’re going to be the most popular with the way things are going at the moment,” Southgate acknowledged when it was suggested the Three Lions would be “the most hated” team in the competition.

“But I’ve been used to that over my career with different teams, maybe that can be an extra motivation for us.”

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England manager Gareth Southgate (centre) takes training at St Georges’ Park ahead of the match with Holland (Simon Cooper/PA)

Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, speaking in his role as captain for Friday’s clash at the Amsterdam ArenA, indicated the squad were doing their best to focus on football.

“As players we’re not really thinking about it, we’re focused on the games like always and preparing as normal as we have in past tournaments.”

Henderson also indicated he had no concerns about bringing his loved ones to the tournament in the present climate.

“At the moment everything seems pretty good. My family want to go and be part of the World Cup.” he said.

In a press conference dominated by off-field and extra-curricular matters, Southgate was also quizzed on the lack of a ethnic diversity in his coaching staff.

Garth Crooks and MP David Lammy are among those to call on the Football Association to appoint a BAME employee, particularly given Russian football’s history of racist abuse.

Southgate remains content with the FA’s network of support and suggested there were still problems to address closer to home.

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England manager Gareth Southgate (right) and Jordan Henderson face the media (Nick Potts/PA)

“I appointed my coaching staff 18 months ago, so there is no additional coaching position,” he said.

“Obviously there’s been reference to how we would deal with racism but we have a department set up working across all our teams to deal with that sort of player welfare side things.

“We will know when we go how we want to respond in those situations.

“But I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We’ve got to get our own house in order. There are things going on in our own country that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country.”

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